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Barbara Cooney
Born (1917-08-06)August 6, 1917
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Died March 10, 2000(2000-03-10) (aged 82)
Damariscotta, Maine, USA
Occupation Artist/illustrator, writer
Nationality American
Period 1940–1999
Genre Children's picture books; fiction, poetry,
Notable works
Notable awards Caldecott Medal
1959, 1980
National Book Award

Barbara Cooney (August 6, 1917 – March 10, 2000) was an American writer and illustrator of 110 children's books, published over sixty years. She received two Caldecott Medals for her work on Chanticleer and the Fox (1958) and Ox-Cart Man (1979), and a National Book Award for Miss Rumphius (1982). Her books have been translated into 10 languages.

For her contribution as a children's illustrator, Cooney was the U.S. nominee in 1994 for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international recognition for creators of children's books.


Cooney was born on 6 August 1917 in Room 1127 of the Hotel Bossert in Brooklyn, New York, to Russell Schenck Cooney (a stockbroker) and his wife Mae Evelyn Bossert (a painter). She had a twin brother and two younger brothers. Her family moved to Connecticut, where she attended Buckley Country Day School and later Boarding School. She started drawing and painting early in life, and was encouraged by her mother but allowed to learn independently.

Cooney graduated from Smith College with a history degree, but continued working at art, taking classes on etching and lithography at the Art Students League of New York. She began to make connections in the publishing world. Her first professional illustration was for Ake and His World by the Swedish poet Bertil Malmberg, which was published in 1940, a year after she graduated.

During World War II, Cooney served in the Women’s Army Corps. Soon after her service, she met and married Guy Murchie in 1944. They had two children, Gretel and Barnaby. She later divorced. In July 1949 she married Charles Talbot Porter; they had two children together: Phoebe and Charlie Porter.

Cooney had continued her illustration work. In 1959, she won the Caldecott Medal for Chanticleer and the Fox, writing and illustrating her version of the fable, "Chanticleer and the Fox." This was developed by Chaucer in his "The Nun's Priest's Tale." Beginning in her 40s, Cooney frequently traveled, gaining inspiration for illustrations and her writing. At home, she lived in Damariscotta, Maine, in a house built for her by one of her sons.

Among her many books, Cooney illustrated Ox-Cart Man (1980), written by American poet Donald Hall, for which she received her second Caldecott Medal. In 1975, she illustrated When the Sky is Like Lace. Written by Elinor Lander Horwitz, the book was selected as a New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year. With her book Miss Rumphius (1983), which she wrote and illustrated, she won the National Book Award in category Picture Books. That year William Steig and his Doctor De Soto also shared the award.

In 1996, Maine Governor Angus King honored Cooney by proclaiming a day in her name as "Barbara Cooney Day". Her last book, Basket Moon (2000), was published six months before her death at home in Damariscotta on March 10, 2000.

Portions of her original artwork are being displayed at Bowdoin College in Maine.


Throughout her career, Cooney used a variety of techniques, preferring pen and ink, acrylic paints, and pastels. Her illustrations are often described as folk art. She most often chose folk stories to illustrate. While many of her books were in black and white, her "heart and soul are in color".


  • On her mother:

"She gave me all the materials I could wish for and then left me alone, didn’t smother me with instruction. Not that I ever took instruction very easily. My favorite days were when I had a cold and could stay home from school and draw all day long.... She was an enthusiastic painter of oils and watercolors. She was also very generous. I could mess with her paints and brushes all I wanted. On one condition: that I kept my brushes clean. The only art lesson my mother gave me was how to wash my brushes. Otherwise, she left me alone."

  • On Smith College and her art: "I have felt way behind technically; and what I’ve learned I have had to teach myself. To this day, I don’t consider myself a very skillful artist."
  • On her travels and learning the spirit of place:

“It was not until I was in my forties, in the fifth decade of my life, that the sense of place, the spirit of place, became of paramount importance to me. It was then that I began my travels, that I discovered, through photography, the quality of light, and that I gradually became able to paint the mood of place.”

  • On receiving the Caldecott Medal in 1959:

"I believe that children in this country need a more robust literary diet than they are getting.... It does not hurt them to read about good and evil, love and hate, life and death. Nor do I think they should read only about things that they understand.... a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. So should a child’s. For myself, I will never talk down to—or draw down to—children."

  • On her favorite works: "Of all the books I have done, 'Miss Rumphius,' 'Island Boy,' and 'Hattie and the Wild Waves,' are the closest to my heart. These three are as near as I ever will come to an autobiography".

Books illustrated

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